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News Releases

Double Hand Transplant Patient Released from Hospital

For Immediate Release: 11/23/2016

Louisville, Ky. (November 23, 2016) - A Jeffersonville, Ind. woman, who become the first female hand transplant recipient in Kentucky on September 17, 2016, was released from the hospital today, November 23, 2016.

During a 17-hour procedure in September, Louella Aker underwent a double hand transplant at Jewish Hospital. The 69-year-old acquired an infection while involved in the cleanup of Henryville, Ind. after an EF4 tornado hit the area on March 2, 2012. Aker was later diagnosed with septicemia and underwent a bilateral, below-the-knee amputation on her legs, left forearm amputation, and right partial hand amputation. Aker was added to the organ donor registry on September 18, 2015.

Following her surgery in September, Aker was placed on immunosuppressive medications to prevent rejection of her new hands. Doctors closely monitored Aker for signs of rejection and adverse reaction to medications. She has shown no signs of clinical rejection at this time.

“It is truly a miracle that I received these new hands,” said Aker. “Every single day, I wake up and am thankful for this opportunity that I have been given. My heart goes out to the family of the donor for what they have been through, but I thank them for this gift they have given me. I will always consider them family. My family and I will always be grateful to them.”

“Ms. Aker is doing extremely well two months after her bilateral hand operation,” said Christopher Jones, MD, director of abdominal transplantation and associate professor of surgery, University of Louisville and Jewish Hospital. “She is tolerating her immunosuppression medications, and from her most recent protocol biopsy has shown no signs of rejection. This extraordinary accomplishment highlights the skill and dedication of our phenomenal group of physicians, nurses, coordinators, pharmacists and therapists, who are privileged to care for our patients and their families.”  Aker is the tenth patient to receive a hand transplant from the Louisville Vascularized Composite Allograft (VCA) program. The program is a partnership of physicians, researchers and healthcare providers from Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health; the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Microsurgery (CMKI); the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center; and the University of Louisville.

 As a result of Aker’s bones healing, and continued wrist strength and stability, she now wears anti-claw splints on her hands throughout the day. These splints help prevent Aker from having an abnormal hand position, which can develop due to a problem with the ulnar nerve.

“These splints allow more natural function of the hands,” said Tuna Ozyurekoglu, MD, lead surgeon, Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center. “We are working to increase isolated finger movements, as well as the grip and lateral pinch strengths of each hand. Currently, her lateral pinch, where an object is held between the thumb and index finger, allows her to hold and eat a cracker. Holding both hands together, she is also able to arrange a blanket in her lap. Ms. Aker is finding a new task on a daily basis with her new hands.” 
In 2013, the Louisville VCA program was awarded $850,000 to fund a clinical trial of a new treatment that will help prevent rejection of transplanted hands as part of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) research program. AFIRM II is a five-year, $75 million federally funded project that will focus on applying regenerative medicine to battlefield injuries. Results of this trial will be far-reaching and benefit not only military patients, but all hand transplant recipients.

The AFIRM II funding enables Louisville VCA researchers to explore the potential for a cell-based therapy to help control the immune system’s response to a hand transplant, with a goal to lessen or eliminate the need for immune-suppressant drugs.

The Louisville VCA team developed the pioneering hand transplant procedure and has performed hand transplants on 10 patients since 1999. The clinical trial is led by Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu, MD, with research at the CMKI and the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, a partnership of Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and the University of Louisville.

Funding for the surgical procedure was provided by the Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation, part of KentuckyOne Health.

Recent video of Louella Aker’s hand therapy session can be found at here. For additional video and photos of her surgery, and other information about hand transplantation, go to

About Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health
Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health, is an internationally renowned high-tech tertiary referral center developing leading-edge advancements in hand and microsurgery, heart and lung care, home care, rehab medicine (including sports medicine), orthopaedics, neuroscience, occupational health, organ transplantation and outpatient and primary care.  Site of the world’s first successful hand transplant, the world’s first and second successful AbioCor® Implantable Replacement Heart procedures, and world’s first trial of cardiac stem cells in chronic heart failure, the hospital is in the select group that performs heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplantation.
About the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Micro Surgery
Named in honor of Dr. Kleinert’s mother, the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Micro Surgery (CMKI) is a 501c3 non-profit organization with a mission of excellence in education and research in the field of hand surgery. The Institute is the home of the CMKI/University of Louisville Hand Surgery Fellowship, the largest and one of the oldest hand surgery fellowships in the United States. To date, this program has trained nearly 1,500 surgeons from all over the US and from 59 countries.  CMKI fellows have gone on to chair departments, be presidents of societies, build research programs and start their own fellowships, here and abroad. Dozens of research projects refining surgical techniques, testing new devices, and pushing the frontiers of basic and clinical science in the field of hand surgery are currently underway. CMKI also provides patient rehabilitation services after surgery and patient recovery services without surgery through the Hand Therapy Center and Orthotic Care Center. For more information, please visit or call 502.562.0310.

About the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center
Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center is one of the largest hand and arm care programs in the world, with pioneering achievements in hand and microsurgery, research, therapy and orthotics. The 10 physicians of Kleinert Kutz offer expertise in orthopedic and plastic surgery and provide comprehensive care for the hand, wrist and arm. Kleinert Kutz’s significant achievements include the nation’s first five hand transplants, one of the world’s first cross-hand replantations, pioneered work in primary reconstruction using free tissue transfer and national award for research in blood flow to the nerve. For more information, please visit or call 502.561.4263.

About the University of Louisville
The University of Louisville is Kentucky's metropolitan research university, with 22,000 students attending classes at 11 colleges and schools on three campuses. Bordered by its many medical partners, UofL's downtown Health Sciences Center is home to more than 3,000 students pursuing degrees in health-related fields with the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Public Health and Information Sciences, as well as 14 interdisciplinary centers and institutes.


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Barbara Mackovic
Senior Manager

Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's HealthCare Kleinert Institute Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center University of Louisville School of Medicine